Will the PTI and its leader Imran Khan listen to some sage advice by the chief justice of Pakistan? Despite hopes to the contrary, the immediate answer looks to be a resounding no. Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial has asked PTI legislators to go back to parliament. The chief justice made these remarks while hearing the PTI’s appeal against the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC’s) verdict on the acceptance of phase-wise resignations of PTI MNAs. The CJP has rightly reminded the PTI that the voters had elected them for five years and that the cost of holding by-elections on 123 seats would be a huge burden on the exchequer given the destruction caused by the floods. This is sound advice given the circumstances and the political polarization in the country.
Under the circumstances the country is currently going through – and with an obviously waning narrative – one would think the PTI would pause and reconsider its politics of antagonism. There have been suggestions multiple times that parliament should be the main battlefield between the government and the opposition. The PTI though has stuck to its main demand: ‘we’ll return to parliament only if Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announces a date for the next general elections’. To put it plainly, if it wasn’t at first it is now an absurd demand. A country flood-ravaged and virtually walking around with a begging bowl has a political class that evidently no longer believes in the power and supremacy of parliament and instead has focused largely on street power demonstrations. While one is not averse to the right to protest – and street protest has a long and dignified history also in our country – it is a bit bizarre that our politicians, at least those in the PTI, have somehow decided that parliament is no longer their first port of call. Instead of raising issues on the floor of the House, their instinct is to take to the roads. The PTI has two provincial governments but it wants to return to power at the centre as well. If the party thinks it can somehow force elections through street agitation and long march(es), it is mistaken. In 2014, the PTI had the support and backing of powerful quarters but could not manage the government’s exit despite its prolonged dharna. Now with the ‘neutrality’ factor in play, does the PTI really think its admittedly very popular status can force an early election through jalsas and dharnas?
One can trace the zeal for jalsa and dharna power shows back to 2014’s dharna politics by the PTI. Since then, other political parties also tried the same route instead of fighting their battles in parliament. The irony of the ‘people’s representatives’ refusing to indulge in dialogue or even animated debate and then still waxing on about democracy should not be lost on people. Perhaps, this is why – despite the increasing politicization of the youth – there is such little trust in the ‘process’ and ‘system’. Why would the PTI not want to sit in parliament and give a tough time to the government as opposition? If they think that this government is not credible, they should be reminded that this government won its seats in the same election which resulted in Imran becoming the prime minister. There can be no way forward out of this crisis until all political stakeholders sit on the negotiating table and resolve issues like the date of the next elections, electoral reforms, the role of the ECP and other issues. At some point, the PTI must realize that it cannot always depend on support from interventions. Supremacy of parliament means supremacy of the people; handing it over voluntarily is why politics stand where it does today.